l MOTHERWELL and Wishaw MP Frank Roy was 19-years-old when he was hired to work at Ravenscraig.
l Thirteen years later – like so many local men – he was piled on the scrapheap of unemployed North Lanarkshire steel workers.
l With thousands facing the reality of a life without work, Frank applied for an HNC at Motherwell College, hoping to demonstrate his employability after being dumped by the ’Craig.
l Here, he speaks to reporter Euan McLelland about the grim tide that washed over Motherwell and Wishaw, taking with it a generation of prosperity and a proud steel-working plant.
“THERE were lots of people whom I knew from the Motherwell area in the Ravenscraig.
“Some of your neighbours were there, school friends were there – that’s just how it was. It was the case in the 1960s that men went to school and then went pretty much straight into Ravenscraig.
“By the time I joined in the late 1970s, though, there weren’t as many jobs, so it was more difficult to get in. I applied many, many times before I was actually accepted.
“I was there for about 13 years after that. I worked in the Bosch plant, the ladle teams, the secondary steel units, the mills; most of my time was spent as a steel operator.
“What we had to do at Ravenscraig was modernise our workforce, so the old industrial demarcation lines had to change. Guys were retrained to not just do one job but do many jobs, meaning we had flexibility. The plant was ahead of its time in this respect, which is the reason why we became the most productive plant in Britain.
“The plant was massive inside – you could easily get lost. It was very cold to work in, which not a lot of people would believe. You could be working away and your back could be freezing because of wind but your face and front would be hot because of what you were working with.
“In the summer it would be very hot and sticky, but in the winter it would be bitterly cold.
“It was dirty and it was loud, but you got used to it. The noise wasn’t just isolated to the plant itself, though, because no matter where you lived in Motherwell or Wishaw you could hear the steelworks. You could also see the glow in the sky at night from the coke ovens or the furnaces. The red sky at night was nearly every night here. It became part of the skyline and became the fabric of the towns.
“As employees we weren’t millionaires, we were never really well off, but we were comfortable. We had cars, we were bringing up families, we went on foreign holidays. We were all enjoying comfortable lifestyles.
“The political background of the day was Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister determined to take on the unions and determined to take on heavy industries. In the mid-80s a lot of steel workers started getting an insecurity about their jobs. That wore an awful lot of people down. No-one ever said that it was a job for life, but we did think it was for the long term. There was an evolution where we began to realise that it might not be for the long term.
“Ravenscraig closed by death of a thousand cuts. They just kept cutting away piece by piece until it became apparent that there was nothing we could do.
“It was a very sad occasion and very, very worrying. Redundancy money meant that there was a lot of money in the area that just wasn’t going to last. There was the grave fear that this money would run dry and men wouldn’t find work – they certainly wouldn’t find work that paid them the same quality wages as the steel industry. We knew whatever was going to come next was never going to be the same, that was the real fear.
“Part of the redundancy package at the time was that you’d be paid a percentage of your salary for a year if you retrained, paid for by the European Union.
“Suddenly an abundance of training agencies sprung up throughout North Lanarkshire to allow the men to retrain. We then had tons of horticulturists, decorators and bricklayers. We all knew a lot of that training was false but it was the only way of earning.
“Others like myself decided to go into further education for the first time. The class that I was in must have had about 10 or 12 other steelworkers in it.
“We were young so had these opportunities, but there were men in their fifties who had spent their entire lives in Ravenscraig and were expert steel makers who never got a job again. There was just nothing there for them. There were as many people who went on to get other jobs as there were of those who didn’t get anything.
“By 1994 the town was starting to feel the effects of mass unemployment and an all-round lack of money. We were like many other towns, but worse. The heydays were gone. It wasn’t just Ravenscraig – through that period we lost Clyde Alloy, the Lanarkshire Steelworks in Craigneuk, the old Clydesdale Tubeworks in Mossend, Dalziel plate mill was drastically reduced, Gartcosh had closed – it wasn’t just a Ravenscraig story, it was a steel story.
“Unemployment was topping 15 per cent. People in this town did not have jobs. There was a gloom that was very hard to lift. When the towers finally came down in July 1996, that signalled that it was genuinely time to move on – we had to. We had had the grief, this was officially the end of the generation and the lifestyle, now it was finally time to move on.
“We don’t forget Ravenscraig but we move on with our lives. I think there’s still a lot of bitterness towards the government of the day who turned their backs on the industry. Ravenscraig gave me an insight into why politics was so important. I think politically we were let down, without a doubt, and it left a bitter taste. The way people were mistreated hardened my attitude. However, the legacy remains. This was a very hard-working area that took on huge challenges and met them head on. It’s a very proud history I certainly look back on it with pride, but I’m conscious we now need to look forward.”